Steam trawling on the south-east continental shelf of Australia An environmental history of fishing, management and science
in NSW, 1865 – 1961
Submitted to fulfilment of the requirements of the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, School of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Tasmania
Anne Lif Lund Jacobsen
i | P a g e
As many of the world‘s fish stocks are fully or over-exploited there is an urgent need for governments to provide robust fisheries management. However, governments are often slow to implement necessary changes to fisheries practices.
The will to govern is an essential factor in successful marine resource management. Studies of historical documents from State and Commonwealth fisheries authorities involved in the steam trawl fishery on the south-east continental shelf of Australia illustrate different expressions of intentional management and how a more ecological responsible view has emerged.
Motivated by Sydney‘s insufficient supplies of fish, the objective of early fisheries
management in the state of New South Wales (NSW) was to improve the industry. Driven by state developmentalism, efforts were focused on increasing the productivity of already existing coastal fisheries through fisheries legislation, marine hatching and marketing.
As this failed, an alternative development vision emerged of exploiting the untouched resources on the continental shelf, which at the time were believed to be inexhaustible.
During 1915 to 1923 the NSW Government pioneered steam trawling on the shelf through the State Trawling Industry with the aim of providing the public with an affordable supply of fish. Although an economic failure, the State Trawling Industry paved the way for a private steam trawling industry. The industry expanded throughout the 1920s until falling catch rates of tiger flathead forced the industry to scale down and reorganise.
A Commonwealth fisheries research organisation was established in 1937 to aid industry growth, but shortly afterwards marine scientists began challenging the development driven fishery policy. Instead they advocated sustainable resource management based upon scientific recommendations.
The Second World War provided financial relief for the industry, as the Royal Australian Navy leased the ageing trawler fleet for minesweeping. After the war a complex system of overlapping State and Commonwealth authority evolved. Different management objectives and lack of legislative framework blocked conservation efforts.
ii | P a g e Fazed by evidence of depletion of stocks in the post-war period and unable to pass legislation for fishing in extra-territorial waters, the NSW Fisheries Branch used market reform to regulate the industry. Increased costs and changes in species composition of catches caused by overfishing forced the steam trawling companies to gradually close down between 1954 and 1961.
The history of the management of the steam trawling fishery shows the considerable difficulties associated with implementing responsible resource management in a multi- governmental system and the power of bureaucracy in policy decisions.
iii | P a g e
This thesis contains no material which has been accepted for a degree or diploma by the University or any other institution, except by way of background information and duly acknowledged in the thesis, and to the best of the candidate‘s knowledge and belief no material previously published or written by another person is included except where due acknowledgement is made in the text of the thesis, nor does the thesis contain any material that infringes copyright.
Anne Lif Lund Jacobsen
Statement of Authority of Access
This thesis may be available for loan and limited copying in accordance with the Copyright Act 1968.
Anne Lif Lund Jacobsen
iv | P a g e
Table of Contents
ABSTRACT ... I
DECLARATION ... III
STATEMENT OF AUTHORITY OF ACCESS ... III
TABLE OF CONTENTS ... IV
LISTS OF FIGURES ... VIII
LIST OF TABLES ... X
ABBREVIATIONS, ACRONYMS AND GUIDE TO TERMS AND LANGUAGE ... XI
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ... XII
PREAMBLE ... XIV
CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION ... 1
A REVIEW OF SELECT WRITINGS AND RESEARCH ... 4
Australian perspectives ... 8
State entrepreneurship and state developmentalism in Australia ... 14
RESEARCH DESIGN... 21
Sources ... 22
Ecological changes on the South East Continental Shelf 1915-1961 ... 29
Location of trawling grounds ... 30
Catches and the effect on fish stock ... 32
Chapter structure ... 36
CHAPTER 2 A NEGLECTED SOURCE OF WEALTH, C. 1865-1900 ... 39
INTRODUCTION ... 39
FISHERIES LEGISLATION AND DEVELOPMENT BEFORE FEDERATION ... 40
The state of the NSW fishing industry before Federation ... 40
The Fisheries Act of 1865 ... 42
The Royal Commission of 1880 and the Fisheries Act of 1881 ... 46
THE WORK OF THE NSWFISHERIES BRANCH UNDER THE CHIEF SECRETARY’S DEPARTMENT,1881-1900 ... 55
FIRST TRAWLING IN NSW ... 62
DEVELOPMENTALISM, NATIONALISM AND FISHERIES IN THE PUBLIC DEBATE ... 65
CONCLUSION ... 69
v | P a g e
CHAPTER 3 EARLY ATTEMPTS AT FISHERIES DEVELOPMENT, 1901 -1913 ... 71
INTRODUCTION ... 71
NEW INSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORK:THE FISHERIES ACT OF 1902 AND THE FISHERIES AMENDMENT ACT OF 1910 ... 73
TOWARDS SCIENTIFICALLY BASED DEVELOPMENT ... 76
THE SEA-HATCHING MOVEMENT ... 79
SEA HATCHING IN NSW ... 82
The Maianbar Fish Nursery, 1899 – c 1914 ... 82
Appointment of scientific staff ... 84
Construction of the Gunnamatta Bay Hatchery, 1902-1905 ... 85
The work at the hatchery, 1906-1914 ... 88
DAVID GEORGE STEAD:ANOTHER TAKE ON DEVELOPING FISHERIES ... 92
THE ROYAL COMMISSION OF FOOD SUPPLIES AND PRICES,1911-1912 ... 98
CONCLUSION ... 103
CHAPTER 4 FISHING FOR THE STATE, 1914-1923... 105
INTRODUCTION ... 105
PLANNING A STATE FISHING INDUSTRY,1914-1915 ... 106
THE NSWSTATE TRAWLING INDUSTRY UNDER STEAD’S MANAGEMENT,1915-1920 ... 113
Plans for expanding the State Trawling Industry ... 118
Landings and sales of trawled fish ... 123
THE LAST YEARS,1920-1923 ... 128
New inquiries into the State Trawling Industry ... 135
New management ... 139
BUSINESS OR EDUCATION? ... 142
CONCLUSION ... 143
CHAPTER 5 THE PRIVATE STEAM TRAWLING INDUSTRY, 1923-1961 ... 145
INTRODUCTION ... 145
THE GROWTH OF THE PRIVATE STEAM TRAWLING INDUSTRY,1923-1929 ... 146
From state industry to private industries ... 146
Coastal Trawling Company Ltd., 1923-1926 ... 148
Cam and Sons ... 150
Red Funnel Fisheries Limited ... 151
A. A. Murrell ... 154
NSW investment in trawl fishery ... 155
THE FISH DISAPPEAR,1928 ... 157
vi | P a g e
STAGNATION AND EARLY INDUSTRY DECLINE,1930-1939 ... 166
On the edge (of the continental shelf): The trawling companies’ situation by 1939 ... 172
SECOND WORLD WAR,1939-1945 ... 173
Fishing during the war and immediately post-war ... 177
THE END OF THE NSW STEAM TRAWLING INDUSTRY ... 179
CONCLUSION ... 186
CHAPTER 6 SCIENCE GOES FISHING, C. 1927-1955 ... 188
INTRODUCTION ... 188
DIFFERENT VIEWS OF THE OBJECTIVES OF A NATIONAL FISHERIES RESEARCH INSTITUTION ... 191
Australian Fisheries Conferences, 1927-1929 ... 195
Move to place Fisheries Research under control of the Commonwealth Development Branch, 1932-1935 ... 203
THE ESTABLISHMENT AND EARLY RESEARCH OF THE CSIRDIVISION OF FISHERIES,1935-1939 ... 210
Relations between NSW Fisheries Department and Division of Fisheries ... 215
CSIRDIVISION OF FISHERIES AND CENTRALISED CONTROL OVER FISHERIES,1940-1945 ... 217
POST-WAR FISHERIES MANAGEMENT POLICIES ... 226
The development discussion revisited ... 232
BUILDING A (LEGISLATIVE) FRAMEWORK FOR FISHERIES MANAGEMENT IN EXTRA-TERRITORIAL WATERS ... 234
CONCLUSION ... 242
CHAPTER 7 FISH-MARKETING AND FISHERIES MANAGEMENT: THE NSW FISHERIES DEPARTMENT, C. 1920- 1960 ... 244
INTRODUCTION ... 244
THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE FISHERIES BRANCH ... 245
FISH LANDING IN NSW ... 255
Fisheries management during the 1930s ... 257
SCIENCE AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT ... 260
Investigation of the trawl fishery on the south-east continental shelf ... 264
Reactions to CSIR’s recommendation of conservation ... 268
POST-WAR MARKET MANAGEMENT IN NSW ... 269
Epilogue: End of the Great Australian Fisheries Dream or a new beginning?... 277
CONCLUSION ... 281
CHAPTER 8 CONCLUSION ... 283
BIBLIOGRAPHY ... 293
ARCHIVAL SOURCES ... 293
vii | P a g e
NSWGOVERNMENT PUBLICATIONS ... 294
ACTS ... 294
NSW Acts ... 294
Commonwealth Acts ... 294
Legal proceedings ... 295
ELECTRONIC SOURCES ... 295
PUBLISHED ARTICLES, BOOKS AND REPORTS ... 295
APPENDIX 1: ASSETS OF THE STEAM TRAWL INDUSTRY ... I
APPENDIX 2: STEAM TRAWLERS WORKING FROM NSW ... II
viii | P a g e
Lists of figures
FIGURE 1-1.TRAWLING GROUND ON SHELF WATER.SOURCE:KLAER,N.,2001 P 401. ... 32 FIGURE 1-2.TOTAL CATCHES IN TONNES BY NSW STEAM TRAWLERS AND OTHER FISHING VESSELS FROM FISHERY AT THE SOUTH EAST
CONTINENTAL SHELF (SEF),SOURCE:KLAER,N.,2006. ... 33 FIGURE 1-3. CONTRIBUTION PER SPECIES TO THE TOTAL COMMERCIAL CPUE FOR THE BOTANY GROUND (AREA D)SOURCE:KLAER,
N.,2006, P.80. ... 35 FIGURE 2-1.TOTAL RECORDED CATCHES IN TONS SOLD IN SYDNEY THROUGH THE FISH MARKET,1885-1900.SOURCE:‘ANNUAL
REPORT OF THE COMMISSIONERS OF FISHERIES FOR NEW SOUTH WALES FOR THE YEAR (1885-1900),‘THE WEALTH AND
PROGRESS OF NSW’(1889-1900), AND ‘SELECT COMMITTEE:REPORT ON WORKING OF THE FISHERIES ACT’,1889. ... 54 FIGURE 2-2.SALE AT THE FISH MARKET AT WOOLLOOMOOLOO,1875.SOURCE:STATE LIBRARY OF VICTORIA.[AN01/12/75/196]
... 59 FIGURE 3-1.DRAWING OF THE PROPOSED HATCHERY APPROXIMATELY 1903,SOURCE:SRNSW:STATE FISHERIES;GUNNAMATTA
1909-10[4/6635.1]... 86 FIGURE 3-2.GUNNAMATTA HATCHERY AFTER COMPLETION, WITH THE LABORATORY IN THE BACKGROUND, ENGINE SHED, BOAT SHED AND HATCHING POND WITH H.C. DANNEVIG IN THE FOREGROUND.PHOTO COURTESY OF DENNIS REED. ... 87 FIGURE 3-3.PHOTO OF DAVID GEORGE STEAD WITH NSWMINSTERS AND LADIES ON BOAT AT PORT STEPHENS 1917.LEFT TO
RIGHT: FISHERIES INSPECTOR PATON,D.G.STEAD,J.GARLAND (MINISTER OF JUSTICE),HOOWORTH (FULLER’S SECRETARY), MS HARKNESS,?,GEORGE FULLER (COLONIAL SEC SECRETARY).SOURCE:SLNSW:DAVID G.STEAD;[MLMSS5715 11(25)] ... 92 FIGURE 4-1.DRAWING OF STATE TRAWLER DRAGGING AN OTTER-TRAWL BASED UPON ORIGINAL SHIP MODEL FROM THE SHIPYARD,
NOW AT THE POWERHOUSE MUSEUM,SYDNEY.SOURCE:ROUGHLEY,T.,1916. ... 111 FIGURE 4-2.CREW ON AFT DECK WITH NET AND STEM WINCHES ON A STATE TRAWLER, DATE UNKNOWN.SOURCE:SLNSW:DAVID
G.STEAD;[MLMSS571511(25)]. ... 112 FIGURE 4-3.POSTCARD WITH PHOTO OF SSGUNUNDAAL WITH THE STI’S LOGO ON THE FUNNEL.UNKNOWN DATE.SOURCE:PCLJ.
... 113 FIGURE 4-4.AN OCCASIONAL FISH SALE AT NEWCASTLE, APPROXIMATELY LATE 1915.SOURCE:SLNSW:DAVID G.STEAD; PAPERS
[MLMSS571511(25)]... 116 FIGURE 4-5.TOTAL LANDINGS OF FISH (UN-GUTTED) FROM THE STATE TRAWLING INDUSTRY IN TONS AND PURCHASED FISH FROM THE
COASTAL RECEIVING DEPOTS AND MARKET,JULY 1915-FEBUARY 1923,SOURCE:HERLIHY,F.,NSWSTATE TRAWLING
INDUSTRY -HISTORICAL RECORDS 1915-1923.1927, AND SRNSW:PARLIAMENTARY PAPERS;STATE INDUSTRY
UNDERTAKINGS,BALANCE SHEETS,TRADING ACCOUNTS (1916-1921)... 124 FIGURE 4-6.NET LOSS OF THE NSWSTATE TRAWLING INDUSTRY PER FINANCIAL YEAR.SOURCE:SRNSW:PARLIAMENTARY PAPERS;
STATE INDUSTRY UNDERTAKINGS,BALANCE SHEETS,TRADING ACCOUNTS (1916-1923). ... 131 FIGURE 4-7.PERCENTAGE OF COSTS OF EXPENSES TO EARNINGS,SOURCE:SRNSW:PARLIAMENTARY PAPERS;STATE INDUSTRY
UNDERTAKINGS,BALANCE SHEETS,TRADING ACCOUNTS (1916-1923)... 132
ix | P a g e
FIGURE 4-8.VOLUNTEER FISH-CLEANERS AT WOOLLOOMOOLOO DURING A STRIKE,DAVID G.STEAD IN THE MIDDLE WITH CAP AND APRON,13APRIL 1919. SOURCE:SLNSW:DAVID STEAD;[MLMSS571511(25]. ... 135 FIGURE 5-1.APPROXIMATE NUMBER OF STEAM TRAWLERS ENGAGED IN FISHERY IN NSW PER YEAR,1815-1961. ... 169 FIGURE 5-2.HMASGOORANGAI PULLING UP.DATE UNKNOWN.SOURCE:AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL COLLECTION DATABASE.
... 176 FIGURE 5-3.CATCH PROPORTIONS BY SPECIES FOR STEAM TRAWLERS,1915-1961,SOURCE:KLAER,N.,2006. ... 181 FIGURE 5-4.ANNUAL EARNING PER STEAM TRAWLER, BASED UPON TOTAL LANDINGS AND PRICES RECEIVED BY RED FUNNEL FISHERIES, 1939-1952. SOURCE:KLAER,N.,2006. ... 184 FIGURE 6-1.PHOTO OF THE DELEGATES AT THE SECOND FISHERIES CONFERENCE IN SYDNEY BY STANLEY FOWLER,12JULY 1929.
SOURCE:DATANET@CSIRO [01.03.2010]. ... 200 FIGURE 6-2.FOWLER’S SHADOW IS CAPTURED WHEN HE PHOTOGRAPHS A WINCH.HIS PHOTOS OF GEAR AND VESSEL AT WORK GIVES
VALUABLE INSIGHT INTO EARLY MODERN FISHING IN AUSTRALIA.PHOTO COURTESY OF ROB BIRTLES,CSIRO,CANBERRA. .. 211 FIGURE 6-3.SCHOOLING FISH SWIMMING JUST BELOW THE SURFACE.SUCH PHOTOS SUPPORTED THE IDEA THAT AUSTRALIA
POSSESSED LARGE UNEXPLOITED MARINE RESOURCES.PHOTO COURTESY OF ROB BIRTLES,CSIRO,CANBERRA. ... 212 FIGURE 7-1.NUMBER OF FISHING- AND BOAT LICENSES IN NSW PER YEAR.SOURCE:ANNUAL REPORT ON THE FISHERIES OF NSW
FOR THE YEAR,1887-1960. ... 250 FIGURE 7-2.LANDINGS OF FISH IN NSW IN TONS.SOURCE:ANNUAL REPORT ON THE FISHERIES OF NEW SOUTH WALES,1887-
1960;KLAER,N.,2000. ... 256
x | P a g e
List of tables
TABLE 4-1.SNAPSHOT OF PRICES FOR MAIN TRAWLED AND PURCHASED SPECIES.SOURCE: VARIOUS CORRESPONDENCES FROM THE
STI. ... 128 TABLE 5-1.COMPARISON OF PERCENTAGES OF TOTAL CATCH PER SPECIES OF FISH,1917-19.SOURCE ROYAL COMMISSION TO
INQUIRE INTO THE PUBLIC SERVICE OF NEW SOUTH WALES:“FOURTH SECTIONAL REPORT”,1920,KLAER,N.,2006. ... 180 TABLE 5-2.AVERAGE PRICE RECEIVED BY RED FUNNEL OF MAIN SPECIES PER FINANCIAL YEAR,1939-1952.CONVERTED BY KLAER TO CENTS PER KILOGRAM.SOURCE:KLAER,N.,2006. ... 182
xi | P a g e
Abbreviations, acronyms and guide to terms and language
CFRC Cronulla Fisheries Research Centre of Excellency, Department of Primary Industries, New South Wales
CoML Census of Marine Life
CPUE Catch Per Unit Effort
CSD New South Wales Chief (Colonial) Secretary‘s Department CSIR Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
CSIRO Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation FAO The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations Fisheries Branch New South Wales Fisheries Branch
inland fisheries All freshwater fisheries in New South Wales
inshore fisheries All coastal and estuary fisheries in New South Wales
HMAP History of Marine Animal Population
NAA National Archive of Australia
NSW New South Wales
PCLJ Private Collection of Lif Jacobsen
PSB New South Wales Public Service Board
RAN Royal Australian Navy
SEF South East (Trawl) Fishery
SLNSW State Library of New South Wales
SMH Sydney Morning Herald
SRNSW State Records of New South Wales
STI State Trawling Industry
WOI Department of War Organisation of the Industry (Commonwealth)
xii | P a g e
A number of people have contributed to this thesis and for whose help I am grateful. My primary supervisor, Elaine Stratford (University of Tasmania) has, throughout out my candidature, provided advice and encouragement, trusting me to make my own decisions about the direction of the thesis. She has also patiently and in great detail commented on my drafts. Malcolm Tull (Murdoch University), my secondary supervisor, despite the difficulties in supervising work done from Hobart, has read through drafts of the thesis and given me extensive feedback at critical stages of the project and kindly included me in the HMAP ASIA team. I am also thankful for the financial support I have received from the Thomas A.
Crawford Memorial Scholarship, University of Tasmania, without which I would not have been able to undertake this study.
Two people, whom I first met in Denmark, are (unwittingly) responsible for some of the directions that this thesis has taken. Anthony Harrison‘s seminar on Australian fisheries management at University of Southern Denmark, Esbjerg in 2003 inspired me to look at management issues. Since I began my studies at University of Tasmania he has generously shared information, including his knowledge about all things related to Australia‘s fisheries management. Neal Klaer (CSIRO, Hobart), whom I met several times through HMAP, first made me aware of the existence of the NSW steam trawling industry and helped me put together the original research proposal.google
During my visits to the Cronulla Fisheries Research Centre I have received helpful assistance from many people; in particular Dennis Reed, who enthusiastically shared his knowledge about Harald Dannevig with me, and went beyond the call of duty providing me with accommodation and introducing me to his family. In addition, thanks to Kevin Rowling for allowing me to scavenge through his collecting of old trawling documents and Kathy Bown who helped track down relevant material in the library.
In October 2006 I attended a workshop in Environmental History organised by Libby Robin and Tom Griffiths at Australian National University. The opportunity to present and discuss my ideas with other PhD candidates and hear talks by other environmental historians was of immense value and helped me to refine my research approach.
xiii | P a g e Thanks goes to Rob Birtles (CSIRO, Canberra) who helped with the CSIRO archives and information on Stanley Fowlers, and staff at State Records of New South Wales in Kingswood for providing such a good service.
I also owe thanks to Rene Taudal Poulsen, (University of Southern Denmark) and Bo Poulsen (Roskilde University) for valuable insights, helpful comments and constructive criticism. In the final stages many people helped by proofreading chapters; Jane Harrington (Port Arthur Historic Sites Management Authority) did the task with efficiency and great skill, and Jenny Scot (University of Tasmania) did an immaculate job in the final round of proofreading. I would also like to thank Peter Andreas Lund Jacobsen (Aalborg University) for sharing his access to online dictionaries with me.
I am grateful for the intellectual and social atmosphere at School of Geography and
Environment and want to especially thank Kate Booth, Carol Fabotko, Rebecca Jackson and Millie Rooney for stimulating discussion and company – their friendship has enriched my time at the School.
Finally thanks are due to my family who supported my decision to pursue PhD-study in Australia – even when the promised two years turned into five.
Last but not least I would like to thank my partner Asger for unfailing support.
xiv | P a g e
When I began working on the history of the NSW steam trawl fishery I would travel to archives and libraries in Sydney, Canberra or Melbourne to collect data. Upon arrival at my destination I would sit in air-conditioned reading rooms with fluorescent overhead lights and immerse myself in hundreds of boxes containing documents about fisheries. Sometimes the records were carefully organised and labelled but often they were unordered - put away by a government clerk who had been given the task of shipping absolvent records away to
oblivion; the original purple strings, signalling the closure of the case, were often still
wrapped around the parcels. I would turn the dusty pages with ill-fitting white cotton gloves, systematically tracing people, events, concepts and ideas, and minutely recording my
observations on my laptop. Most of the documents I read were official records about
mundane administrative matters, but over time I learned to associate certain phrases, tones or handwriting with individual people and I would take pleasure in getting to know them, laying bare their thoughts and ambitions to my scrutiny, and creating story lines and cultural
patterns for them. Sometimes, after hours of sifting through impersonal records there was joy in finding a letter or other documents that revealed views supporting my theories.
After periods of intense archival research I would return to Hobart and begin to piece together my new found knowledge by reference to previously collected information. Then I would return to the archives and libraries again with new questions. This pattern of short and intense research visits, bridged by long periods of writing and contemplation continued for nearly three years.
I could have written the story about the management of the NSW steam trawl fishery and associated ecological changes without ever contemplating the scene of the events; without ever engaging with the actual place where these events occurred, basing my history upon the account of managers and scientists who had experienced the fishery from the distance of their offices. Yet to undertake this research away from its setting might risk producing a story that would be as disembodied from the sea as the historical documents I used. Thus, once in a while my research would take me to the library at the Cronulla Fisheries Research Centre of Excellence, the NSW Department of Primary Industries headquarters for recreational and commercial fisheries research and management in New South Wales. The Research Centre is
xv | P a g e situated at Gunnamatta Bay overlooking the Port Hacking estuary. From the tranquillity of the flat rocks behind Harald Dannevig‘s unmistakable Norwegian styled marine laboratory, one encounters many of the features that characterised this region‘s interaction with the sea.
From my examination of the historical records I know that the estuary was named in April 1796 by Matthew Flinders and George Bass who explored the place and decided to name it after the Colony‘s game hunter Henry Hacking. The Gwiyagal, the local aboriginal people, called the estuary Deeban. I also know that across the estuary, at Maianbar on the south shore, are the sparse remains of Australia‘s first marine hatchery, which was the forerunner of the Research Centre. The south shore of the inlet also marks the boundary of The Royal National Park, Australia‘s first national park, established in 1879. I am aware that the laboratory and fish pound behind me originated from the State-owned marine hatchery completed in 1908, and that the site had been headquarters for CSIRO‘s Fisheries Division for nearly 50 years, until it became the home of NSW Fisheries research in 1985. On the site of the Research Centre I have found aboriginal middens of sun-bleached shells overlapped by newer deposits of shellfish used as feed in the hatchery‘s fishponds or discarded after being used in tagging programs. At Jibbon Head near the town of Bundeena on the south shore are large rock engravings made by the traditional owners showing rays and whales. While sitting and drinking coffee on my rock I can witness the pull of the ocean on the foreshore, and I know that when I look past the entrance of the estuary out to the sea, I am looking at the
‗Home Grounds‘, the first fishing grounds to be depleted by steam trawlers in the late 1920s.
In my mind all these landmarks come together, weaving a complex tapestry of cultural and natural marine heritage back and forth through time and space. But this place also exists beyond the meaning I give it. Sitting on the warm rock with a good coffee from the lunch wagon in hand, lazily observing a cormorant on the pier drying its plumage, listening to the distant traffic noise and the sound of lapping water smelling of salt and decomposing seaweed, I nearly ‗get it‟. I get a sense of this place.
To create truly meaningful stories about the environment, one needs to ground the knowledge found in archives and libraries with the particularity of place. Although this thesis is about fishing and people‘s struggle to understand and come to terms with the sea‘s limited capacity for sustainable fisheries, I also seek to offer an account that describes the significance of
xvi | P a g e place – the south-east continental shelf of Australia – and how it was forever transformed by activities of the NSW steam trawlers.
1 | P a g e
Chapter 1 Introduction
The history of the origin, development and decline of steam trawling on the south east continental shelf of Australia from about 1865 to 1961 demonstrates the power of
government initiatives and policies in establishing long-term patterns for marine exploitation, and reveals how such systems are highly resilient to change. By using historical documents from government institutions, public media, private archives and industry records it has been possible to study the origin and decline of steam trawling in NSW from multiple viewpoints and to document its management over time. This study addresses a significant gap in
Australian environmental history which, as a discipline, has largely overlooked the sea and the life within it. In particular, the aims are to examine how the NSW Government changed from being the operator of a resource-extractive fishing industry to the manager of an ecosystem, and to ask how a public will to govern1 the steam trawl fishery evolved.
This chapter presents a review of select writings and research that have informed this study, documents the research design and methodological considerations that underpin that design, and gives an overview of the ecological changes that occurred on the shelf between 1915 and 1961. This last task provides the reader with an environmental ‗reading‘ from which to understand certain economic, social and policy changes presented in chapters one to seven and that typified management of the fisheries over that period.
The study is motivated by my concern about the state of the world‘s marine resources.
Globally the world‘s fisheries have reached a critical level of exploitation and the future looks bleak; sound management is crucial. According to the Food and Agriculture
Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) today 80 percent of the world‘s fish stocks, for which assessment information is available, are fully or over-exploited. It is FAO‘s assessment that the maximum potential for wild-capture fish from the world‘s oceans has been reached and there is still an over-capacity in the global fishing fleet, despite decades of
1 The term ‗will to govern‘ has a complexes meaning in Foucauldian theories about governmentality. See e.g.
Dean, M 2004. I use the term in its colloquial sense where ‗a will to govern‘ is to be understood as a government or organisation‘s determined intention to govern, the rationale behind the intent and the means through which this intention was expressed.
2 | P a g e efforts to limit the growth of fishing capacity in order to protect aquatic resources. Without exception, fisheries management poses challenges for all national governments and when attempts at international fisheries governance are made the implementation of agreements is often stalled by those same governments and manifests as an apparent lack of political will to implement decisions in a timely manner. 2
Lack of knowledge and implementation deficits are also severe problems in fisheries management in Australia. Take, for example, the NSW Department of Primary Industries, which currently estimates that of 92 key species found in the State‘s waters, 24 are fully fished and another seven species can potentially be fished more intensively. Three species are overfished and another seven are fished to a degree where harvesting is economically
inefficient. Of the rest, for 52 species there are not enough data to determine exploitation status: despite more than a century of fisheries research and management we still know little about even the most common species.
One species for which there is robust biological information is tiger flathead
(Neoplatycephalus richardsoni) upon which the early NSW steam trawl fishery was founded.
According to NSW Department of Primary Industries fisheries research, tiger flathead is today considered fully fished (but not overfished), and it is estimated that current stock is about 40 percent of its original biomass measured from when steam trawling commenced.3 Stock decline can almost certainly be attributed to overfishing, mainly by members of the steam trawling industry, which was founded by the NSW Government in 1915 and which continued to operate under private ownership until 1961.4
An in-depth study of the origin and management of the NSW steam trawl fishery on the Australian south-east continental shelf will provide valuable insight into why the industry was able to continue to exploit the resource for nearly five decades, despite such activity being both ecologically unsustainable and uneconomical. It is apposite to ask why State and Commonwealth management failed to protect the previously untapped marine resources. As FAO statistics show, many of the world‘s aquatic resources are subjected to intense
exploitation and, as the number of under-exploited wild fish stocks are reduced, the pressure
2 FAO 2008.
3 Scandol, J., K. Rowling and K. Graham 2008.
4 Klaer, N. L. 2001.
3 | P a g e on exploited stocks increase. Although the NSW steam trawling fishery was small by
international standards it provides an object lesson in problems facing marine resource management. If patterns of resource extraction are to comply with the best available information, knowledge and practice of environmental management, it is crucial to understand socio-economic behaviours, practices and policies that have typified fisheries development and management over time.
The project also adds to knowledge about the past and our relationships with the sea. Almost without exception, marine environmental historians have argued that oceans have largely been ignored by historians and have stressed the need to historicise the oceans if we are to explain what happened in the sea. Internationally, the history of the NSW steam trawl fishery fits into a larger and mutually constitutive history of oceans and human culture. Australia‘s maritime history, especially history of fishing, has received very little attention in scholarly writing and environmental history – in Australia at least – is nearly always land-based;
therefore a history of the NSW steam trawl fishery fills a significant gap in Australian
scholarship. It addresses an overlooked topic in maritime history and has the potential to open up a new branch of environmental history by placing the sea alongside studies of the land- based environment. Finally, a history of the NSW steam trawl fishery on the south-east Australian continental shelf is also part of the history of the European settlement of Australia and the European relationship with indigenous nature.
The sea was one of the last frontiers to be conquered and made productive; its exploration follows a pattern similar to that of Australia‘s inland, with state initiated development driven by a belief that science could improve productivity. When trawling was first considered in NSW waters during the second half of the nineteenth century the ecology of the continental shelves was largely unknown and marine resources were unexploited. The prospect of
harvesting seemingly unlimited marine resources of vast commercial value, and developing a formal fishing industry, prompted the NSW Government to get involved in fisheries
development and later to establish its own steam trawling industry in 1915 – with aspirations to provide inexpensive fish to consumers and open up the sea to exploitation. The industry was privatised in 1923 but it was gradually realised that it was unsustainable, which forced State and Commonwealth authorities to reconsider their objectives for fisheries management and turn to scientific investigation in order to address the apparent failure of the industry.
4 | P a g e Fisheries scientists were already embedded in the complex interplay of shifting management and governance strategies, and their standpoint changed from a wholly pro-development approach to a more cautious attitude to fisheries.
A review of select writings and research
Environmental history may be described as the study of people‘s interactions with nature, of which they are a part. Marine environmental history is a specialised part of the larger field of environmental history, focusing on marine and maritime environments and their social and institutional dimensions, and studying how people have affected the oceans and the oceans have affected us.
Geologists and biologists since Darwin have been indebted to environmental history, in particular by constructing narratives and chronologies to explain nature. But it was not until the early 1970s that an anthropocentric environmental history, focusing on the cultural
components of the field gained momentum5, with its roots in history and geography as well as ecology and biology. The American historian Donald Worster is regarded as one of the
founding figures of environmental history, and his views have been extremely influential in the discipline. He found that environmental history emerged alongside rising public
awareness of environmental problems and was partly linked to the rise of the green
movement in the 1970s, maturing into scholarly enterprise without a singular political agenda to promote. In his view the aim of environmental history involved ―deepening our
understanding of how humans have been affected by their natural environment through time and, conversely, how they have affected that environment and with what results‖.6 Worster strongly advocated that historians should reach out to different disciplines and work towards a cross-disciplinary approach, in order to produce a complete history of the environment.7 Arthur F. MacEvoy‘s pioneer study of the Californian anchovy fishery8 exemplifies
Worster‘s stance. In his study MacEvoy broke with the traditional historical view of nature as a passive environment and instead described the dynamic process in which marine ecology, industry and legal practices interacted and evolved over time. Since his research was
5 Griffiths, T., 2000, pp.189-190.
6 Worster, D., 1989, p. 290.
7 Worster, D., 1989, pp. 294-307.
8 MacEvoy, A. F., 1986.
5 | P a g e published in 1986, a number of works on fisheries from a broadly environmental point of view have been published. Some works, such as Making Salmon 9 by Joseph E. Taylor III, have focused on the changes in cultural responses to the ‗salmon crisis‘ of the Northwest US since colonisation. Other works, such as Fishing the Great Lakes 10 by Margaret Beattie Bogue, report on the US and Canadian Great Lake fishery from 1783 to 1933. Bogue, for example, described the destructive exploitation of the lakes fisheries resources and the inability of succeeding governments in Canada and the USA to adopt legislation that ensured long-term sustainable harvests.
A number of marine scientists have also ventured into the field of marine environmental history. One of the first to attribute environmental awareness to marine sciences was marine biologist Rachel Carson, best known for Silent Spring,11 in which she describe how
pesticides are harmful to the environment, and particularly destructive to birds, and then criticises DDT‘s uncontrolled use in the US. The viewpoints in Silent Spring were
controversial at the time and the publication is considered to be among the seminal texts of the modern environmental movement.12 Less well known is that Carson was already a successful writer of popular marine science; her books Under the Sea Wind13, The Sea Around Us14 and The Edge of the Sea15 were all bestsellers in the US in the 1950s. Depicting life in the sea as well as the life of the sea through her writing Carson displayed the sensibility of a deep-ecologist. More recent accounts, such as Jeremy Jackson‘s work on long-term changes in the Caribbean coral reef ecosystem16 have pushed the boundaries between ecology and history. Using quantitative historical sources, Jackson‘s team of researchers has
developed a model for reconstructing coral reefs ecosystems from the time of Spanish contact. Although his findings are considered controversial among ecologists they show that fisheries are the single most intrusive factor in marine ecosystems, and establish that even subsistence fisheries can have devastating effects on the upper levels of the marine food web.
9Taylor J. E., 1999.
10 Bogue, M. B., 2000.
11 Carson, R., 1961.
12 Hay, P., 2002, p. 16.
13 Carson, R., 1941.
14 Carson, R., 1951.
15 Carson, R., 1955.
16 See Jackson, J., 1997.; Jackson, J and Sala, E., 2001; Jackson, J., and Johnson, K., 2001. Jackson, Jeremy B. C. et al. 2001.
6 | P a g e Work by historian Sean Cardigan and marine biologist Jeffrey Hutchings17 on the expansion of the Newfoundland cod fishery in the nineteenth century demonstrates that what seems to be a move by Newfoundland fishermen to expand their fishery into Labrador waters on the basis of socio-economic impulses was caused by declining productivity in inshore waters.
Such studies have taken marine environmental history in new directions, where scientists have used historical data and historical methods in their research of ecological changes and historians have started using scientific models to find environmental explanations for cultural changes. One of the main inspirations for the present study, Neal Klaer‘s Changes in the Structure of Demersal Fish Communities of the South East Australian Continental Shelf from 1915-196118, is a product of the discourse just described. Using historical and material evidence in trawling logbooks and data kept now at the CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Klaer has been able to quantify and qualify changes in fish abundance caused by the trawling and has used the information to refine modern stock assessments that provide reference points for management; a scientist by training, he has adopted the methods of an historian.
Many of these and other similar initiatives are linked to an international research program known as HMAP (the History of Marine Animal Population program), which is a sub- component of the Census of Marine Life (CoML), funded by the Sloane Foundation, of which I am a participating member. HMAP was founded in 2000 and runs until 2010, and through an interdisciplinary approach its participants seek to study past ocean life and human exploitation of the sea through time. The program focus is exclusively on marine animals, especially fish, and on changes in their abundance, the impact of fishing and its historical importance for society. The aim of HMAP is to build a new discipline, by integrating marine ecology, history and paleo-ecology into a single multidisciplinary study.19 By supporting research projects, workshops, conferences and publications, scholarly contributions by HMAP researchers have expanded the knowledge base on marine environmental history, but most significantly have been instrumental in quantifying ecological loss in the oceans due to human activity. The success of this approach led HMAP Chair Poul Holm to declare in his
17 Cardigan, S., and Hutchings, S., 2001.
18Klaer, N., 2006.
19 www.hmapcoml.org [08.03.2010].
7 | P a g e keynote lecture at the first World Congress of Environmental History in August 2009, that
―We now know the basic outline of the origins of commercial fisheries in Northern Europe;
we have a good sense of developments in many regions around the globe during the last 500 years ranging from the Caribbean to the White Sea, from the American Pacific to New Zealand‖.20 As HMAP enters its final phase in 2010 more emphasis will be placed on
synthesis and asking how to influence decision makers to secure more sustainable methods of governing the oceans.21
The approach to marine environmental history championed by HMAP has proven a challenge to both maritime history and environmental history. In the other seven tenths, for example, van Sittert22 criticises those historians involved in the program for focusing their research on
‗hard‘ data (that is, for instance, catch statistics) and for their extensive use of scientific (ecological) models: his critique is that their work ignores the point that both science and nature are temporally and spatially shifting cultural constructions, thereby rendering ―the humanists the data serfs of ‗scientist‘ model lords‖.23
In response to van Sittert‘s paper, environmental historian W. Jeffrey Bolster24 wrote
Opportunities in marine environmental history to support HMAP‘s research approach and to define marine environmental history as different from historical marine ecology, bridging the gap between marine environmental history oriented to scientific expositions and
environmental history in general. Bolster‘s main argument is that historians have
mythologised the oceans as timeless and unchangeable – a narrative proved wrong by marine science. He also asserts that historians need to accept that great changes in the sea are
attributable to cultural transformations as well as ecological ones.25 While ecologists are looking into the past for ecosystem trends and baselines (for example, measures of the abundance and distribution of species) and may only see humans as instruments of change, Bolster proposes that environmental historians have a responsibility ―to create compelling accounts of the changing nature of marine environments in which contradictory human
20 Keynote lecture by Professor Poul Holm, First World Congress of Environmental History, 5 August 2009, Copenhagen.
21 In 2007 Australia scholars joined the HMAP research initiative with a regional project call HMAP-ASIA, on fisheries in the Australasia region. A monograph by the members is expected to be published in 2010.
22 Sittert, L. van, 2005.
23 Sittert, L. van, 2005, p. 107.
24 Bolster, J., 2006.
25 Bolster, J., 2006, p. 572.
8 | P a g e aspirations, values, behaviours, and institutions play central roles‖.26 Marine environmental historian René Taudal Poulsen and his colleagues take the argument a step further in What Can Fisheries Historians Learn from Marine Science? The Concept of Catch per Unit Effort (CPUE)27. Through a case study of nineteenth century Swedish North Sea fisheries, they demonstrate how the application of CPUE, an analytical tool from fisheries science, can provide marine historians with radical new insights and a capacity to quantify central concepts informing fisheries history.
Another of René Taudal Poulsen‘s works, An environmental history of North Sea ling and cod fisheries, 1840-1914 and that by Bo Poulsen, Dutch Herring – An environmental history c. 1600–1860, also demonstrate the emergence of a ‗new school‘ of marine environmental history whose practitioners argue the possibility of reconstructing past exploitation patterns of the sea and differentiating between natural and human impacts28 using historical and scientific data, thereby making marine environmental history ―a bridge over the otherwise wide gap between history and ecology‖.29 On such matters, Steve Mullins argues that while environmental scientists have recognised that a historical perspective is useful, establishing
‗retrospective data‘ is often done by non-historians who find the task intellectually
unsatisfying. He suggests that an equal meeting of scholars based in different disciplines and engaged in the same projects is only possible if each group focuses on its own strengths:
environmental scientists should produce scientific knowledge about nature and environmental historians should ground ecological/environmental knowledge in local communities by telling stories about people and places.30
It is clear that Australia has a rich scholarly tradition in environmental history, but marine environmental history (or marine history for that matter) has largely been ignored.31 In European environmental history the focus has often been on urban areas and cultural
landscapes. In American and African environmental history, wilderness or sparsely populated
26 Bolster, J., 2006, p. 579.
27 Poulsen, R. and Holm, P., 2007.
28 Poulsen, B., 2008, p. 238.
29 Poulsen, R., 2007, p. 282.
30 Brown et al., 2008.
31 Robin, L. and Smith, M., 2008.
9 | P a g e areas have taken a more prominent place.32 In Australia, studies of environmental history have often emerged out of the need to address problems of sustainability and government practices,33 and in much scholarship there has been a geographical concentration on the British settlement of the south-east of the Australian continent.34 Less attention has been given to pre-settler societies and the scarcely populated areas of mid- and northern Australia.
One of the few examples of Australian marine environmental history is Richard J. Gowers‘
Selling the ‗Untold Wealth‘ in the Seas: A Social and Cultural History of the South–east Australian Shelf Trawling Industry, 1915-1961.35 Using Klaer‘s data from Changes in the Structure of Demersal Fish Communities, Growers traces the impact of a ‗culture of
consumerism‘, documenting how trawled fish was marketed as cheap food and attributes the decline of flathead on the continental shelf to such a culture. Part of his argument is that the NSW Government was able to increase the consumption of trawled fish species to the point of ecological disaster, first through its state-owned trawling industry and later by renaming fish more attractively and promoting the health benefits of seafood. Grower convincingly demonstrates that the NSW Government‘s early involvement in the fishing industry was ideological, but his argument that the cultural preference of consumers was the driving force behind the exploitation of the continental shelf is less developed.
While works on marine environmental topics are rare, the history of nature and science in Australia has received some attention among environmental scholars. The importance of such works to marine environmental historians is apparent when one considers that most of our knowledge about what happens under the surface of the sea stems from scientific studies: as methods developed and knowledge grew so did understandings of the sea.
One of the most prolific authors of the history of science is Libby Robin who, with Tom Griffiths, edited Ecology and Empire. The book brings together a collection of chapters about how European settlers in South Africa, America and Australia brought with them particular understandings of ecology which were products of imperial thinking, and about how they viewed the settled country as inferior and in need of improvement. In her contribution to the
32 Winiwarter, V., 2004.
33 Robin, L. and Griffiths, T., 2004, p. 452.
34 Robin L., Smith, M., 2008, p. 137.
35 Gowers, R., 2008.
10 | P a g e monograph, Robin examines the politics of the science of ecology in Australia and traces how the discipline evolved, arguing that a strong relationship existed between science and politics. She continued this line of argument in How a continent created a nation, in which she explores the connections between and among science, nature and nation in Australia, and shows how governments have used science for both economic development and to create national identity.
Similarly, James Bowen and Margarita Bowen draw upon the link between science and culture in The Great Barrier Reef – history, science, heritage36 in which they relate the history of Western discovery and settlement on the Great Barrier Reef and the responses of scientists to it: from early voyages in the eighteenth century to the present time, in which the reef is managed according to its World Heritage status. They illustrate how political agendas and scientific discoveries had impacts upon marine environmental management.This
situation is especially true for fisheries science, where politics has always played a central role in directing research efforts.37 In Australia, which has a strong tradition of government- funded scientific institutions and scientific based development, this is likely to also be the case.
The topic of fisheries science and scientific management in Australia has been studied by former Tasmanian fisheries director and historian Anthony J. Harrison, who has written several articles and bibliographies (some unpublished) about marine biologists, fisheries science and institutional development in Australia and Tasmania in particular.38 His emphasis on scientific bureaucracy in fisheries management shows that through a trans-national
network of scientists Australians had access to current thoughts on fisheries science but personal and political agendas often delayed or avoided the implementation of scientifically based management. Harrison‘s work The Commonwealth Government in the administration of Australian Fisheries – A sort of mongrel socialism39, about the history of the role of the Commonwealth in the administration of fisheries, gives unique insight into the origin and
36 Bowen, J & Bowen, M., 2002
37 See also Smith, T., 1994, p. 3. In which Smith advocates that a historical understanding of the development of fisheries sciences is essential or scientists will always be at the mercy of ―political forces, which have always directed fisheries research towards the next most pressing problem as defined by economic concerns‖.
38 A collection of Anthony J. Harrison‘s writing is found at his webpage: http://www.users.on.net/~ahvem/
39 Harrison, A., 1991.
11 | P a g e development of Commonwealth fisheries management from 1901 to 1990. He concludes that – despite the fact that the constitution gave the Commonwealth responsibility over fisheries beyond three miles offshore – there was little real interest in fisheries management until the 1970s. For most of the period fisheries management and conservation was the practical responsibility of the states, as it had been in colonial times.
Writings about Australia‘s maritime history are also relatively sparse. In Island Nation. A History of Australians and the Sea, Frank Broeze notes that ―the role of the sea as an integral and vital part of our national experience has remained largely unexplored‖.40 Broeze offers a narrative of Australian history from the alternative viewpoint of an island settlement, seeking to integrate maritime history into the broader national history. While Libby Robin seeks to explore the link between nature and nation in How a Continent Created a Nation, Broeze explores the link between sea and society. In particular he identifies three main themes in Australians‘ relationships with the marine sphere: controlling sea space, taming distance and living with the sea.41 While the first theme refers to the exercise of naval power and
international relations, the second theme refers to shipping and how the sea acts as a surface for the transport of goods and people. Both themes have especially appealed to writers of popular publications and are significant features in most of Australia‘s maritime museums.
The third theme ‗Living with the sea‘ engages with how Australians have interacted with the sea for exploitation and recreational purposes. Although Broeze mentions marine
environmental history as a way to write about the sea itself, he does not pursue this angle further and settles with providing a cultural history of human relationships with the sea. His chapter on Australia‘s fishing industries gives a brief account of nineteenth century whaling and sealing before sketching out the main themes that have characterised the history of twentieth century commercial fishing in Australia: the lack of a market for fish due to the abundance of cheap meat, the part governments played in opening up new fisheries and the role of Mediterranean immigrants in developing the fishing industry particularly after 1945.
He concludes that fishing remains a small-scale industry constituted by small enterprises created by non-Anglo-Saxon immigrants and closely linked to local communities.
40 Broeze, F., 1998, p. 1.
41 Broeze, F., 1998, p. 4.